How well members of Congress truly understand how technology is transforming the way America works – and drives much of the U.S. economy – is a matter of frequent debate.
Despite the relentless march of technology groups upon Capitol Hill to explain the mounting cost of intellectual property theft from cybersecurity breaches, the impact of big data analytics, or why cloud computing services are changing the procurement of IT, it seems too few members of Congress actually get what the fuss is about.
TechCrunch is best known for profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products and breaking technology news – and as a matter of disclosure, is owned by AOL (which publishes Breaking Gov, Breaking Defense and Breaking Energy). The website’s editors, however, get to see how public policy impacts technology innovators, and thus hope to shine a brighter light on the matter, says Greg Ferenstein, with a new section on the site called CrunchGov.
The score card, which is powered by the Sunlight Foundation, is more a measure of where politicians stand on issues that affect the technology industry as a whole, according to Ferenstein, rather than on their breadth of understanding of how technology is rewiring the way American business – and even government agencies – work.
Even then, notes Ken Wasch, president of the Software & Information Industry Association, “The tech industry is awfully broad..and includes all kinds of interests.” He cites just a few of the issues his members are focusing on, including the evolution of “first sale, grey market, reimportation,” and the Kirtsaeng copyright issue.
That notwithstanding, TechCrunch plans to grade each member of the House of Representatives (and a few selected members of the Senate for now) on how closely their voting aligns with three core issues deemed to align with “the consensus of interests” of the technology industry: Immigration, crowdfunding and an open Internet. Details about the methodology and grading system can be found on their FAQ page.Among those deemed to be Tech Titans are: Representatives Eric Cantor (R) VA; Anna Eshoo (D) CA; Mike Grimm (R) NY; Darrell Issa (R) CA; and Zoe Lofgren (D) CA
And among those deemed to be Tech Threats are: Representatives Lamar Smith (R) TX; Marsha Blackburn (R) TN; and Sen. Charles Grassley (R) IA.
Cybersecurity champions, such as Rep. Mike Rogers (R) MI for instance, earned a B rating, despite their clear-minded advocacy for advancing the use of technology.
The website is similarly beginning to build a legislative database, recognizing that “tech policy is more than just piracy and immigration reform: it’s tax reform, STEM education, cybersecurity, privacy, patent rights, broadband expansion, libel law, wireless spectrum – not to mention all of the local policies, such as taxi and hotel regulation, wreaking havoc on startups,” says Ferenstein.
The database is expected to catalog tech legislation, with links to news stories, and a list of who supports and opposes the legislation. But to complement that, the site is also attempting to build a crowd-sourced “public markup utility” called Project Madison, which aims to get users to provide feedback to pending legislation.
“We hope that better ideas can facilitate bi-partisan agreement on otherwise doomed bills and avoid the unintended consequences of poorly crafted laws,” said Ferenstein.